Friday, November 22, 2013

Obama-Care: The worst branding effort in history?

Several years ago, legislators signed off on the Patriot Act in knee-jerk fashion, and many of them hadn’t even read the document.  The reason?  Well, first, the nation was in a state of fear, so obviously some piece of legislation had to be passed immediately—that’s just what lawmakers do.  And second, it was named the Patriot Act.  You would have to be unpatriotic not to get on board, right?  Anyway, that was a case of great branding.  Had it been named the Government Spying Act, or the Invasion of Privacy Act, fewer people would have supported it (although, I think it still would have passed).  And now, this same branding phenomenon is playing out, only in reverse, with Obama-Care, a/k/a the Affordable Care Act.

Being self-employed I have purchased my own healthcare insurance for the last twelve years, so I am directly affected by the Affordable Care Act.  (Unfortunately, it appears that I will be negatively affected with regard to both my healthcare options and the price I’ll have to pay, but that’s another story.)  When I discuss the new law with people, I always avoid using the term Obama-Care.  Why?  Because it feels incredibly derogatory rolling off the tongue.  My thinking is that if I use the term, anyone in earshot would immediately brand me a TEA Party member or at least a conservative republican; therefore, they wouldn’t take seriously any thoughtful criticisms that I have about the law.

My feelings on the term Obama-Care were recently confirmed.  Yesterday, I was listening to a business / politics podcast that said, when surveyed, the people who were asked if they supported the Affordable Care Act were much more likely to respond “yes” than those who were asked if they supported Obama-Care.  This was not at all surprising (although it is troubling that people are so easily swayed by labels and emotion, rather than by facts and substance).

I had always just chalked up the term Obama-Care to brilliant Republican strategy. Surely, such a derogatory term must have been hatched by the right-wingers.   But then I heard the surprising part of the podcast: the term Obama-Care actually came from (or at least was embraced by) the Obama administration.  This was hard to believe, but then the podcast played clip after clip of people from the Obama camp, including the president himself, using the term. 

Calling the new law Obama-Care might be the worst branding effort in history.  The Obama camp has since retreated: they now refer to it only by its real name, and have wisely abandoned the term Obama-Care.  But the Obama camp shouldn’t have needed a study or survey to know that the Affordable Care Act is a far better name.  After all, we know that people are easily swayed by labels and their emotional reactions to those labels.  And what’s better than having affordable healthcare?  Of course people would support something called the Affordable Care Act.

To oppose it would border on the unpatriotic.    

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